January 21st, 2010
Quite often I find myself reading deeply into a game which I’ve never played, becoming enveloped in its lore before I’ve even had the chance to play it. One of those games is Snatcher. Snatcher‘s been on my mind for a few years and yet I know it’ll be a few years more until I get around to playing it. Snatcher is a rarity which leaves me with little choice but to emulate it, yet I don’t plan on getting into game emulation until I clear off more of the games which I’ve paid for, so I probably won’t get around to it this year, I suspect.
Another game which has caught my attention is Blade Runner, an early 3D detective game for the PC, set in the universe of the movie with the same name. Blade Runner is interesting because it circumvents the use of a graphics card to render it’s high production 3D visuals.
Snatcher is heavily derived from Blade Runner‘s (movie) neo-noir universe, the similarities speak volumes of Hideo Kojima’s adoration for hollywood. Blade Runner began an aesthetic trend which has populated a number of my favourite anime movies as well. So with all facts considered, I decided that I’d be worthwhile for me to investigate the origins of Snatcher, the Blade Runner game and the numerous anime films which share a visual likeness.
Blade Runner (movie)
Blade Runner is an aesthetically-driven movie. The detective, noir plot plods along at a turtle’s pace and the events that unfold are genuinely less interesting and less important than the goings-on pertained in the visual environment of the hypothetical dystopian future.
Rick Deckard, a detective played by Harrison Ford, is a something of a wanderer with a soggy attitude. I think he’s a jerk, but I guess it was normal in the 80’s for men to throw their girls around. Deckard is assigned to destroy four remaining replicants (robots in the guise of humans) on Earth. Considering the replicant’s pursuit to extend their limited 4 year capacity, the roles of villains and heroes aren’t so clear cut. The film supposes that Deckard is the protagonist, but I would argue otherwise. I would argue that the replicants are just as innocent as Deckard. They both kill others to meet their own ends, and although the replicants are robots, they exhibit human-like initiative which normalise them into the wider population. The replicants refuse to perish because of their continual likeness to human beings (the 4-year life span is a failsafe to prevent the replicants from becoming indistinguishable from human beings) and there’s an admirable quality to be seen there. The question then is of what rights do we grants our manufactured counterparts?
Thematically, Blade Runner is very rich, however, little meaning is incorporated into the story as much as it pertains in the visual environment. The city (Los Angeles) has a strong oriental influence from Japan and is overall a very multicultural take on American, suggesting greater ethnic integration in the future, perhaps Japanese dominance (a concern of the time). The most striking visual feature is the retrofitted nature of the metropolis, which is not only a realistic mix of the past and the future, but visually distinct, metaphorically conveying a strong sense of comparative ideologies of the old and the new. General speaking, the hyrbid approach allows artists to display two ideas embedded into the graphics as dominant and weak, a fusion, cooperative, co-existent and so forth. I think it’s a very powerful way to express comparison.
Taking into account that most of Blade Runner‘s themes are built into the environment, and therefore implicit, the most overt topic posed is one of what it means to be human. Emotion is the answer offered by Blade Runner and it presents this through the Tyrell corporation who attempt humanise their robots through memory implants used to elicit an emotional response. The Voight-Kampff test (a series of questions designed to evoke emotion + a retina scan) used by the humans is a measure for checking whether someone is a human or replicant . The legitimacy of the human condition is put under scrutiny when Deckard uses the technique on Rachael (Sean Young) and struggles to classify her. She’s one of Tyrell’s best models, the Nexus-6, and proves just how indiscernible the line between real and artificial life can be. She believes herself to be human, which conjours up René Descartes notion “I think therefore I am”.
Personally, I consider the unicorn sequence to be a stroke of genius. Early in the movie Deckard dreams of a unicorn galloping through a forest, at the end of the movie he finds an origami unicorn left by his apartment door, the calling card of Gaff, another police officer monitoring Deckard. This is clearly the most intentional question put forward: whether Deckard is a human or a replicant.
I’ve wasted few words discussing Blade Runner‘s story, because the movie is far more interesting as a visual and thematic piece than it is for an engaging narrative. I find it a little bizarre actually that Blade Runner is more enjoyable if you ignore the foreground elements (Deckard’s story) and concentrate on everything happening in the background (the visual landscape, themes and the questions presented by the film). By the way, get the directors cut (seems to be the standard edition now), as it ties together the unicorn sequence in the conclusion.
I mentioned earlier, Blade Runner likely inspired other forms of media, so I just want to quickly run through some examples. Snatcher is a complete Blade Runner rip-off, just take a read of the story the entire premise is identical. Akira, aesthetically borrows liberally from Blade Runner, particularly the futuristic architectural designs. Lastly, Wicked City uses the same bad-guys-in-the-guise-of-humans which the creatures of the dark world.